282 B. POLEVOI
Stalingrad, when he and his men were fighting on foot—
they had lost their machines and were waiting for new
tanks—he met Stepan Ivanovich in the region of the
famous Mamayev Kurgan. The old man had attended a
training course and was now a noncom—a sergeant-ma-
jor in command of a unit of anti-tank rifles. But he had
not abandoned his sniper's habits. The only difference, as
he told Gvozdev, was that he was now after bigger game
—not careless fascists who crept out of their burrows to
bask in the sun, but German tanks, strong and cunning
beasts. But even in hunting this game the old man dis-
played his former Siberian huntsman's skill, stonelike pa-
tience, fortitude and splendid marksmanship. When they
met they shared a bottle of rotten trophy wine that pru-
dent Stepan Ivanovich had carefully put away, and re-
called all friends, Stepan Ivanovich asked to be remem-
bered to Meresyev, and invited both of them to visit him
at his collective farm when the war was over and go
hunting for squirrels, or tealshooting.
This letter comforted Alexei and yet made him sad.
All his friends from ward forty-two had long been fight-
ing again. Where were Grisha Gvozdev and old Stepan
Ivanovich now? How were they getting on? Into what
parts had the wind of war blown them? Were they alive?
Where was Olya?
Again he recalled what Commissar Vorobyov had said
about soldiers' letters being like the light from extin-
guished stars that takes a long time to reach us, so that it
happens that a star may have been extinguished long
ago, but its bright, cheerful light continues to pierce space,
bringing us the gentle radiance of a non-existent lumin-